At every turn of events in history, and in the midst of every disaster that falls upon mankind, and, as well, when personal tragedy knocks our feet out from under us, we need assurance that God is sovereign, that he is in control, that he is guiding our lives toward his benevolent outcome.
Not only when hurts and surprises happen, but every moment we need the knowledge that God rules the universe and moves the world.
God’s servant, James, mentions God’s rule and will early in his letter, writing to an oppressed people of God. He first disavows the idea that God is out to get us, James 1.13. Then he asserts that everything that is generous and good comes from God, James 1.17. Immediately thereafter, James makes a pronouncement of God’s great plan as he takes in all creation:
By his sovereign plan he gave us birth through the message of truth, that we would be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. James 1.18.
Let’s examine this verse phrase by phrase.
By his sovereign plan. Man does not set the agenda. Nor is he given any opening for negotiations. God has decided. He willed what would be accomplished. We feel relieved not to be in charge of the world. We rejoice that God has not abandoned us to our own devices. He is still involved, still working, remains at his post of divine fulfillment.
He gave us birth. God’s decisions are for benevolent purpose. They are being carried out right now. God began working on them before the beginning of time. He is doing it and will do it. James declared that his readers had been given birth. His is a work of re-creation, not a whitewash job.
Through the message of truth. God has a purpose and established a means for accomplishing it. The message is his word. He created the world with his word. He creates his people and adds them to his Kingdom with a word. This is why his Son is called the Word, John 1.1. This message of truth can be resisted and rejected. God’s will is sovereign, and he permits man to choose to submit to it or not. The nature of his word is truth. This is why we must take so much care to discern, understand, defend, and preserve the truth.
That we would be. Here we have our friendly little preposition of purpose. The Lord always has a reason for his actions. He is kind enough to declare to us what his purpose is. The Master said, “But I have called you friends, because I have revealed to you everything I heard from my Father” John 15.15. Because of God’s purpose, the world makes sense. From our limited perspective, we do not see reason in all that happens, but we know that God has a reason in permitting things to happen. What peace in this preposition!
A kind of firstfruits of all he created. James expresses God’s purpose this way. Of all that God ever created, the spiritual birth serves to recreate man in his image and pull him into fellowship again. It expresses beautifully God’s desire to offer us his love. Firstfruits means the earliest part of the harvest and in antiquity was offered to the deities. God also required such offerings in the Jewish system. Then giving firstfruits reflected honor to God. Today, we ourselves are his firstfruits, and honor him by lives offered “as a sacrifice in serving God” Philippians 2.17 ERV. It shows the privileged position of Christians above all creation. It implies that more will follow. The Lord is always seeking to add more to the Kingdom. It also seems to indicate that more will happen. The present difficulties we encounter are not the final phase of the Kingdom. James raises the readers’ eyes to future glory.
As God’s firstfruits, we show his righteousness, James 1.19-20. Righteousness is living out the gospel in a way that brings God’s blessing, James 1.21-25. It takes specific form, in words, in deeds, and in resistance to the world’s influence, James 1.26-27. It is life lived under the sovereignty of God, who works in us and through us and over us, with his peace-giving purpose and will.
The editor just released his latest book, O Soul! The Book of Exhortations.